The foods each person needs to live a healthy and happy life are part of a complex array of factors including connections to their community and culture. Food insecurity is described as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.” 1 Food insecurity is directly related to inequity, financial constraints and is a marker of pervasive material deprivation. 2,3 In the Thunder Bay Area, far too many people do not get enough healthy foods and foods that they would prefer. Moreover, the rates of food insecurity are extremely disproportionate, with Indigenous and racialized people facing much higher incidences of food insecurity than the general population. This is not because there is a lack of food, but due to a failure of social structures, such as public policy, that have enabled this situation to persist and worsen over time.
A wide range of factors create barriers for people’s access to an adequate diet including poverty and inequity; social and geographic isolation; corporate concentration of the food system; the high cost of fuel; inadequate housing; heating and transportation costs; insufficient Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program and minimum wage rates that don’t equate to a “living wage”; lost or fragmented food production and preparation skills; and lack of access to land for traditional hunting and gathering, to name only a few. Because secure access to a healthy and culturally appropriate diet is influenced by many factors, solutions must be broadly based and grounded in principles of social and environmental justice and a support for Indigenous food sovereignty.
A study conducted by Health Canada showed that household food insecurity is a significant social and public health problem in Canada. 4 According to PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program studying food insecurity, in 2021, 15.9% of households in the ten provinces experienced some level of food insecurity in the previous 12 months. That amounts to 5.8 million people, including almost 1.4 million children under the age of 18, living in food-insecure households”. 5 These estimates do not include people living in the territories or Indigenous people that live on-reserve, who are known to experience higher vulnerability to food insecurity.
An adequate and appropriate diet is central to physical and social well-being, dignity and autonomy. Food insecurity can lead to poor nutrition, mental health problems and increased risk of chronic and infectious diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as conditions such as low birth weight.